UCD took on fellow undefeated side Ballynahinch at the Belfield Bowl on Saturday, hoping to build on impressive victories over Belfast Harlequins and Bruff. Collidge had two changes to the side that faced Bruff, as Rob Shanley assumed the scrumhalf duties from Luke McGrath and Shane Grannell switched to blindside flanker to accommodate for Brian Cawley in the second row.
UCD had the benefit of a slight wind in the first half, but conditions were mainly calm and the slight chill in the air was offset by the glorious sunshine throughout the game.
The match kicked off at a ferocious pace as Ballynahinch inside-centre Thompson easily broke the UCD line and left Collidge backtracking to cover in midfield. An excellent covering tackle by Stephen Murphy eventually stopped the centre’s blistering run before a knock-on from the away side allowed UCD a chance to clear their lines.
After a slow start, UCD steadily improved, but were losing the important battle of the breakdown. UCD also struggled to contain the powerful lines ran in midfield by the Ballynahinch centres and were left back-pedaling on numerous occasions in the opening 15 minutes as they were torn apart by a flowing centre partnership.
The opening score came after Ballynahinch winger Chris Quinn fielded a box-kick just inside his own half. Quinn’s incisive run brought the ball deep into the home side’s 22. An infringement from UCD gifted a penalty in front of the posts to the away side that Quinn himself converted.
UCD responded positively, and on 18 minutes Barry Daly was racing down the touchline following a slick-passing move. Daly chipped ahead and won a lineout deep in the Ballynahinch half.
The ensuing lineout gave UCD an attacking platform, with the pack trying to maul their way over the try-line. Scrumhalf Shanley eventually spread the ball to his backs, and centre Alex Kelly was held up just short of the line following a promising run. Although UCD lost possession, Ballynahinch gifted it straight back to the home side by giving away a penalty for binding incorrectly at the scrum.
Shanley took a quick tap and spread the ball to Stephen Murphy who found his centre partner Kelly. Kelly poised himself to offload to winger Sam Coghlan-Murray, whose angled run to the corner left the defenders no chance to make up the ground. Fly-half James Thornton converted from the right touchline.
On the half hour mark, Ballynahinch were dealt a massive blow as Thompson, their troublesome centre, limped off. To compound the visitors’ misery, good work at the breakdown earned UCD a penalty and James Thornton did very well to convert the opportunity and give UCD a seven-point lead.
This seemed to light a fire under the away side, and a clean take from the restart left UCD immediately on the defensive. Ballynahinch crept up the field and eventually spread the ball to winger Quinn who hugged the touchline to run in for a try. Quinn converted his own try to level the scores.
Neither team managed to gain the upper hand in the final stages before half time. Both sides had some good territory and build-up play, but lacked the precision to make the final pass.
The wind picked up for the second half and the opening exchanges were focused in UCD territory, with Collidge struggling to clear their lines. When they did get the ball, it was Daly and Coghlan-Murray making clever inside runs to switch the focus of attack that showed most promise.
Ballynahinch matched UCD’s slick passing play with a few intricate moves of their own. Jonny Madden broke numerous UCD tackles and cleverly offloaded to his scrumhalf McIlroy, but they couldn’t recycle possession on the UCD line and were forced into another handling error.
Ballynahinch took control of the scrum in the second half and managed to use UCD put-ins as a weapon against them. The sides traded scrums deep in UCD’s 22 around the 55th minute. Collidge’s front row finally succumbed to the pressure of Ballynahinch’s strength and a penalty try was the only decision referee, Dave O’Flynn, was left with, leaving Collidge trailing by seven points with just over 20 minutes left.
UCD began to improve up front, and a powerful rolling maul in the 68th minute resulted in a penalty for Collidge, but Thornton dragged it wide. UCD continued to drive forward but some ferocious hits from James Simpson, in particular, kept UCD at bay. With ten minutes to go, Thornton kept his cool to slot over a penalty and cut the deficit to four points.
Ballynahinch sealed the game in the 75th minute thanks to a try from Chris Napier. The second row touched down in the corner after exploiting an overlap created by a break from Michael Graham off the back of the scrum.
UCD rallied in the closing stages, hoping to reduce the 11-point gap so they could at least earn a bonus point for their efforts. The away defence held firm and closed out the game to earn a deserved 13-24 victory.
UCD: Andy Boyle, Sam Coghlan-Murray, Alex Kelly, Stephen Murphy, Barry Daly, James Thornton, Rob Shanley; James Tracey, Risteard Byrne, Kieran Moloney, Brian Cawley, Emmet MacMahon, Shane Grannell, Mark McGroarty, Eoin Joyce. Subs: Rory Hannon, Adam Clarkin, Josh Van Der Flier, Andy Cummiskey.
Ballynahinch: Craig, Quinn, Morrow, Thompson, Harte, McAleese, McIlroy; McCall, Herring, Carey, Simpson, Napier, McGigan, Pritchard, Graham. Subs: Stevenson, Armstrong, Madden, Cairns, Ferris.
By Killian Woods